Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas named the chain in honor of his daughter. That’s why he regretted it.

Dave Thomas, owner of a successful Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Columbus, Ohio, and protégé of founder Colonel Harlan Sanders, was struggling in 1969 to find a name for a new burger concept he hoped to open.

The fast food burger market was becoming saturated, but Thomas believed there was an opening to target the richest young adults – the Baby Boomer generation – who weren’t happy with kid-friendly burger chains. These customers, according to him, wanted fresh beef and their choice of toppings and would be willing to pay higher prices for a better quality burger.

Thomas wanted to name the restaurant after one of his five children and turn it into a family business. But none of the names of his children matched the nostalgic and familiar character he wanted to create for the company.

From his leadership under Sanders at KFC, Thomas had learned the value of using a mascot to create an emotional connection with customers and a “restaurant-related personal identity,” he said in his 1991 autobiography “Dave’s Way”.

She found what she believed to be the perfect name and mascot in her fourth child’s nickname.

Melinda Lou, Thomas’s eight-year-old daughter, was nicknamed Wenda when she was born because her siblings couldn’t pronounce her name. Soon after, her family started calling her Wendy.

Thomas told his daughter one day at home to pull her hair in braids and take pictures with her camera. He wore a blue and white striped dress sewn by her mother for photos of her that would eventually transform her into a globally recognized fast food mascot.

“For me, nothing would be a more attractive ad than showing a smiling, rosy-cheeked little girl” enjoying one of her burgers, Thomas said. “Her clean, freckled face was that. I knew that was the name and image of the company.”

The full name she chose – “Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers” – evoked nostalgia and her choice of a small child to serve as the brand’s character was a long tradition in the American brand. Jell-O, Morton Salt, Sun-Maid and others used girls and boys as the brand’s mascots.

But Thomas later regretted his decision to name what would become a fast food empire after his daughter, believing he had put too much attention and pressure on her.

“He has lost some of his privacy,” he said in his autobiography. “Because some people still see her as the company’s official spokesperson, she sometimes hides herself by saying what she thinks. I don’t blame her.”

Before Thomas died in 2002, he apologized to his daughter for naming the restaurant after her.

Thomas told her, “I should have called him after me, because he put a lot of pressure on you,” recalled Wendy Thomas-Morse, who later became a Wendy’s franchisee, in a blog post for the chain’s 50th anniversary. 2019.

‘Where’s the steak?’

The first Wendy’s restaurant opened in downtown Columbus, Ohio in 1969.

It had a refined tone, with carpeting, Tiffany lamps, hanging beads, and bentwood chairs. The workers all wore white aprons, with men in white trousers, a white shirt and a black bow tie, and women in white dresses and scarves. This gave “the feeling of cleanliness and tradition,” said Thomas. Wendy’s burgers cost twice as much as rival chains.

Disposable income baby boomers would become Wendy’s main customers, and later Wendy’s added salads, baked potatoes, stuffed pitas and other foods to satisfy them.

By the mid-1970s, 82% of Wendy’s customers were over the age of 25, “in stark contrast to all competitors,” wrote John Jakle and Keith Sculle in their 1999 book “Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age “.

In a decade, there were more than 1,000 Wendys in the United States.

The first
The company became known for its square beef patties – to emphasize that they were bigger than the competition’s round buns – and for humorous commercials like its 1984 “Where’s the Beef”? campaign, which helped increase Wendy’s annual revenue by 31% that year. The slogan became so popular that Walter Mondale, the eventual Democratic presidential candidate that year, asked the question to his main opponent Gary Hart during a debate.
Thomas himself became the public face of the brand, appearing in more than 800 commercials for Wendy’s from 1989 until his death in 2002. The Guinness Book of Records recognized his commercials as the “longest-running television ad campaign starring a founder. of the company. ”

With an ordinary man charm, Thomas usually appeared in a short-sleeved white shirt and red tie to advertise his burgers.

“Wendy’s burgers are boxy and old-fashioned. Dave Thomas was boxy and old-fashioned,” an advertising expert said when Thomas died.

Although Thomas apologized for naming the chain after his daughter, Wendy Thomas-Morse appeared in a 2011 commercial featuring Wendy’s new cheeseburgers as the “hottest and juiciest ever”, named after her father. It was the first time she was used in an advertising campaign as a national pitcher for Wendy’s.

Burgers, he says on the spot, “would have made Dad say, ‘Here’s the beef.'”

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